From independent filmmaker David Spaltro and his company Wandering Cut Films comes his second feature film, Things I Don’t Understand. His first feature, the NYC-based Around… got him good critical reviews, and this time he’s back with the same lead actress, Molly Ryman as Violet, a modern day New Yorker who lives with her two roommates in an apartment they’re struggling to afford. When Violet slits her wrists in an attempt to see what lies on the other side, her worried family arranges for her to volunteer at a hospital to see how worse off she could really be.
Violent spends her nights at the local bar, drinking and chatting up Parker (Aaron Mathias), the bartneder, whom she vows to never sleep with, because in her words, “You never sleep with the bartender.” The film follows her damaged path, showing the broken relationship between Violet and her father. Violet keeps her days busy writing her thesis paper on people and their near-death experiences in her quest to find out what exactly happens when you die. She constantly walks the parallel of being terrified to die, but morbidly curious to find out for herself what death brings.
When she meets Sarah (Grace Folsom), who is dying of a rare form of cancer, Violet doesn’t have the heart to leave her behind like she does with so many of her problems. She continues to see Sarah, to understand the path to death, and Sarah’s outlook on life inspires her. Although she knows she will never do many things in life, Sarah has formed an outlook that supersedes the need to do normal things, she has found a way to enjoy the small things life affords, even when those closest to her have hurt her most.
This makes Violet reflect on her own path, and her feelings about Parker, whom she is afraid to reveal herself to, feeling she would be unable to handle his rejection. When she finally gives in and takes a chance on him, her own self esteem won’t allow her to enjoy it, fearing she will hurt him. Things come to a head when Violet learns about his hurtful past, and his move to New York to escape it. Her frustration is exacerbated when Sarah finally dies, after vowing to tell Violet what it’s like if she can find a way. At the same time, the apartment manager has found a solid buyer for their apartment, they no longer have to worry about the money for a new lease, they couldn’t sign one if they wanted to.
In a vent of frustration, Violet confronts Parker about his past, and since it’s something he hasn’t yet dealt with himself, he walks away from Violet. What he does at the end of the film, and how Violet reacts, are all real. The situations might be different in everyone’s lives, but most experience pain of some sort, and this story is about people who do, or don’t, realize that fact, and how it affects their lives. Populated with a lot of likable, well acted characters, this might not have flashy sequences and most of it is dialogue, but that in no way hampers or hinders the film. The best scenes are between Violet and her two roommates, the passive Remy (Hugo Dillon) and the scatterbrained Gabby (Melissa Hampton), who are all in it together as the modern “new family”, which consists of grown adults forced to live together to save money, something that hasn’t been all that common the past 70 years, but is making a resurgence.
The film deals with a lot of heavy emotional and existential issues, but it does so with a balanced tone, never feeling slow or dreary. Most of this is due to the great script, full of interesting characters, realistic dialogue, and something that means a little more than the standard indie drama. Director of Photography Gus Sacks takes full advantage of the range of uses for the Red One camera, his cinematography is expressive and vivacious, whereas so many people working with digital video get lost in its obtuseness, and every movie looks the same. That’s not the case with Things I Don’t Understand, and the crisp cinematography is accentuated nicely by the fluid camera moves and well thought out screen direction. This isn’t a point and shoot indie, director David Spaltro had ideas for camera movement and framing, and he implemented them to best serve his plot.
All in all, it’s further proof that you don’t need a huge budget to make an effective movie. Things I Don’t Understand was made for the relatively small sum (in terms of movie making) of $200,000, and he managed to make a simple, effective film about human emotions, relations, life, and death. Spaltro might not yet be receiving great acclaim, but if he keeps on pace and retains the excellent quality of his writing, he is well on is path to a career full of personal movies made the way he wants to make them. Kudos to him, and while I’m not sure of the extent of release he has planned for the film, it’s the perfect type of film to take advantage of new distribution models such as VOD and Netflix when the positive word of mouth spreads.
If you’re interested, here’s the preview right here: (more info at their official site.